Make a Key Machine Vacuum

May 1, 2007

My afternoon chore during adolescence was to clean all the key machines in our family locksmith store. Key shavings have a way of getting into every nook and cranny including becoming unwanted slivers in your fingers or feet, not to mention the possibility of airborne key dust.

I often wondered why the dozens of key machine manufacturers have not seen fit to incorporate some kind of vacuum system into their products. At least one model made in Europe does have a vacuum attachment accessory, but the vast majority of key machines have completely overlooked the key shavings issue. Some machines do have a chip catching tray, but most shavings still find their way onto the bench or surrounding floor area.

It is said that “necessity is the mother of invention.” When cleaning out my workshop, I discovered a small, seldom-used vacuum cleaner. This vacuum is equipped with a thin nozzle designed to generate a strong blast of air to blow debris out from between the keys on a computer keyboard. It only took a few seconds of looking at the vacuum before the invention process began.

This vacuum is equipped with two connectors: one intake, one exhaust. Most vacuum cleaners use the intake side to do the cleaning work and the exhaust side exits into the atmosphere as an unwanted byproduct. We are using a closed system where both the exhaust and intake help with the cleaning process.

The vacuum system is comprised of several lengths of PVC pipe. The inside diameter of the vacuum outlets and the PVC pipe is one inch. Small three inch sections of PVC pipe were chucked into a lathe and the inside diameter was enlarged so the PVC pipe would fit snugly onto the vacuum outlets. If a lathe is not available, the pipes could be connected by using duct tape, but the specially turned pieces make a neater job.

The outer diameter of another short length of PVC pipe was turned down on the lathe so the original thin nozzle could fit snugly in place. Experimentation showed that the normal one inch pipe or the added thin nozzle made little difference in final trials.

A visit to the plastic plumbing pipe section of a local hardware store produced the rest of the parts. A 3 1/2” to 1 1/2” reducer was used for the funnel. A second reducer was required to bring the funnel down to the right size for the one-inch pipe. Four 90 degree fittings were needed to direct the airflow from the vacuum to the sides of the key machine. Total cost of plastic plumbing parts was approximately $15.

A small Ilco O27A key machine was used for this experiment, so the length of connecting tube sections may have to be increased according to the size and shape of your particular machine. Plastic pipe adhesive can be used to keep the pipes rigid. It may be just as well to keep the fittings loose in case a pipe becomes clogged in the future. Loose fittings also help because it will probably be necessary to frequently empty or replace the disposable filter bag in the vacuum.

If you use a power strip to connect the vacuum and key machine, then each time you press the power strip switch, the key machine and vacuum will both automatically start.

The vacuum for this project was made by the Metropolitan Vacuum Cleaner Company ( It is quite small and takes little room on your work bench. My vacuum was an older model #VM, but the same vacuum is listed on their website as #MOV-1BA and lists for approximately $50. There is also a list of distributors who handle this product. Probably any old tank vacuum cleaner can be used by changing the PVC pipe sizes as needed.